“So ye’re for playing the philanthropist, are ye?” said Master Swift. “Ye’ve picked up one of these poor houseless, masterless creatures? I’m not for undervaluing disinterested charity, Rufus, my man; but I wish ye’d had the luck to light on a better bred beast while ye were about it.”
It is, perhaps, no disadvantage to what we call “dumb animals” if they understand the general drift of our remarks without minutely following every word. They have generally the sense, too, to leave well alone, and, without pressing the question of the new comer’s adoption, the two dogs curled themselves round, put their noses into their pockets, and went to sleep with an air of its being unnecessary to pursue the topic farther.
Master Swift shared his meal with them, and left them to keep house when he returned to the mill.
His quick eye, doubly quickened by experience and by anxiety, saw that Jan’s were full of fever, and his limbs languid. But he would not quit Abel’s side, and Master Swift remained with the afflicted family.
Abel muttered deliriously all night, with short intervals of complete stupor. The fever, like a fire, consumed his strength, and the fancy that he was toiling over the downs seemed to weary him as if he had really been on foot. Just before sunrise, Master Swift left him asleep, and went to breathe some out-door air.
The fresh, tender light of early morning was over every thing. The windmill stood up against the red-barred sky with outlines softened by the clinging dew. The plains glistened, and across them, through the pure air, came the voice of Master Salter’s chanticleer from the distant farm.
It was such a contrast to the scene within that Master Swift burst into tears. But even as he wept the sun leaped to the horizon, and, reflected from every dewdrop, and from the very tears upon the old man’s cheeks, flooded the world about him with its inimitable glory.
The schoolmaster uncovered his head, and kneeling upon the short grass prayed passionately for the dying boy. But, as he knelt in the increasing sunshine, his prayers for the peace of the departing soul unconsciously passed almost into thanksgiving that so soon, and so little stained, it should exchange the dingy sick-room—not for these sweet summer days, which lose their sweetness!—but to taste, in peace which passeth understanding, what god has prepared for them that love Him.
It was whilst the schoolmaster still knelt outside the windmill that Abel awoke, and raised his eyes to Jan’s with a smile.
“Thee must go out a bit soon, Janny dear,” he whispered, “it be such a lovely day.”
Jan was too much pleased to hear him speak to wonder how he knew what kind of a day it was, and Abel lay with his head in Jan’s arms, breathing painfully and gazing before him. Suddenly he raised himself, and cried,—so loudly that the old man outside heard the cry, —